The Barn's preview notes for Immaculate mentioned that critics have both lauded and loathed the play, and said that the drama "challenges more than just your faith".
Having had the pleasure of being entertained by the Barn's latest production, directed artfully by the prolific Sabrina Poole, this critic is one who most definitely lauds the play. What I'd caveat that statement with, is that it challenges very little at all. And that's ok - if you take it as a straight comedy, there's tons to enjoy about the show, especially when the performances are as good as this company produced between them.
The story centres around Mia who finds herself pregnant, heavily, or perhaps heavenly, as it turns out the baby has been conceived immaculately (or in fact a 'virgin birth' as the programme notes). The Angel Gabriel and Lucifer then turn up at her house to both claim responsibility for the pregnancy. Along the way, we also meet Mia's slightly neurotic housemate, her deluded ex-boyfriend, and an old schoolmate that she may or may not have had an embarrassing one night stand with.
Loretta Askew blew me away with her high-energy, high emotion, yet down-to-earth and ultimately brilliant comic performance as the bewildered Mia. I particularly enjoyed her character breaking the fourth wall, and Loretta did it with a wonderful charm that ensured the audience was in the palm of her hand throughout.
The Angel Gabriel was played to great comic effect by the effortlessly funny Will Harragan. He was really able to spread his non-existent wings when joined on stage by the fantastic Séan Bennett as Lucifer, as the pair bounced off each other superbly, delivering some of the play's funniest and most cutting lines in great style.
The rest of the cast had less to work with, in particular Richard Vojvoda as the ex who was the straight man of the piece, but he did well to extract as much comedy from his performance as possible. Rebeka Igneczi as the housemate gave us a perfectly delivered, hilarious and lung-busting monologue in the second half, but had disappointingly little else to do. And Julian Newton completed our cast list with a bombastic and confident cameo as Gary, who briefly lays claim to the unborn child.
Although the play purports to ask how the modern woman copes with immaculate conception, it's really not delved into that deeply. Barring a briefly earnest monologue from Mia, the show is all about the laughs, with the scriptures and Him quite frequently the butt of the joke.
Whether the playwright, Oliver Lansley, succeeded in making us ponder the concept of a virgin birth in the modern era is really neither here nor there. As a comedy, his script succeeded in making us laugh, and that's something we could all do with right now.
Immaculate continues at Sewell Barn Theatre from the 24-25 Nov and then the following week between 29 Nov & 2 Dec.